When Craftsman, a world premiere play written by Tony Foster and directed by Shaina Rosenthal, begins, it seems like a traditional story. It opens on a couple house-hunting with their realtor in present day Los Angeles…and then a maid dressed in early 1900s attire enters the room and begins quietly setting up breakfast, unseen to the present day characters. See, the craftsman house in question is no ordinary house, and this is no ordinary story.
Craftsman, which debuted at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, has many twists up its sleeve, all stemming from this unique premise—there are two storylines that take place in the same titular craftsman home a century apart. Of course, the two storylines also share many emotional parallels. In 1910, Rebecca (Tara Norris) is a frustrated, unhappy housewife married to Charles (John Wuchte), a rather dry, unpleasant gentleman who does not treat her very well. Their maid, Amy (Elizabeth Ellson), has complicated their relationship in more ways than one. In present day, Sheila (Etienne Eckert) is a burnt out realtor desperate to get her indecisive clients, Mark (John W. McLaughlin) and Ryan (Amir Levi), to make an offer. Mark and Ryan are dealing with their own drama—Mark has been keeping a giant secret that will have a huge impact on the future of their relationship.
Obviously this is quite an ambitious structure, particularly for a 55-minute Fringe production, and it’s easy to see many ways in which the complicated twists could have become very confusing. Rosenthal’s smart direction, however, easily differentiates the storylines as needed, while making the most of the unique two-story set and finding the emotional core of the complicated story. The paranormal rules that develop throughout the act are occasionally murky and inconsistent, but you still can’t help but buy into the overall concept and go along for the ride.
The cast is excellent, deftly managing the two timelines and the unexpected ways in which they intersect. In many ways, the craftsman house itself becomes the 7th character of the piece, providing the glue that holds everything together. As wacky as the events that take place in the house become, Craftsman manages to keep the circumstances grounded in human emotions and relationships that feel real even in the most absurd of scenarios. The characters mostly all have very nice arcs, learning something important about themselves and the others in their lives throughout the course of the hour. It is not the type of story that is usually told onstage, making it all the more impressive that it’s pulled off so well.
Craftsman was nominated twice at the awards ceremony that concludes the Fringe each year—Foster’s script for the Inkwell Playwright’s Promise Award and Eckert’s hilarious performance for the Tracey Collins Funny Girl Award. Additionally, it was selected to be a part of the Fringe Encore series, and will play an additional and final performance on Friday, July 8th at 9:30pm at the Asylum @ McCadden Theatre (1157 N. McCadden Place) in Hollywood. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.